We drove our truck about 120 km southeast of Rio Gallegos to the point of land known as Cape Virgenes to the Provincial Reserve for penguins. Over 100,000 Magellan Penguins make their home at this colony from late October until about February. When we were there, the chics had hatched and were in various stages between very young (pichon), still in the nest and standing around with their parents (juvenil). The nests are dug among the roots of mata verde plants. The colony is located along a coast made up of beach and rather barren land. The distinguishing feature of the colony location is these mata plants.
The reserve is set up with a 1,500 meter walkway through the reserve. The afternoon we were there, we were happy to be alone with the penguins for about three hours. We walked slowly through the reserve. The wind was, of course, howling. But we could still hear the constant din of the penguins. The young are constantly crying for food with a high pitched sound. And the parent left with the hungry chics
wants to be relieved of the duty by its mate. The mate finds its partner by the unique sounds of its call. The call is rather like the braying of a mule; consequently the species is commonly known as the jackass penguins.
Feeding the chics is a full-time job. The parents take turns walking to the ocean to catch fish, then walk back and regurgutate the meal. The penguins follow a stone path where they have worn away the sand and brush. At one point this path crosses the visitor walkway. Dawn and I seated ourselves somewhat off the path to see what would happen. As we took our places, the penguins got spooked and ran away. When they “run,” they resort to their aquatic position and scurry on their bellies across the smooth stones.
After about ten minutes, the parade was considerably backed up and hundreds of penguins were milling about. Eventually, they started inching closer. We remained quiet and still with a low profile.
Eventually, two approached us. After moving closer and hastily retreating several times, they essentially sniffed us and decided we were okay. Meanwhile, about a dozen continued on the path about ten feet from us. After that, groups of penguins would slip by us.
From a distance, a penguin looks like a penguin. The tuxedo outfits even mask gender. But, up close, they have different personalities. One marched through the pack, passed within several feet of us, looked at us, and continued on his (her?) journey, without an apparent worry. About
30 acted as a group and kep approaching us and spooking themselves. Others stood there and watched us, just as we were watching them. They were curious about their visitors.
We really enjoyed the Cabo Virgnes Provincial Reserve. Perhpas we were luck in the timing of our visit (Wednesday afternoon), but we had the place to ourselves.